On July 9th 1850, the Bab, the forerunner to Baha’u’llah, was executed in Tabriz, Persia by a firing squad of 750 men. The Bab, which means “the Gate” in Arabic, was a Messenger of God whose role was to herald the coming of the latest Manifestation of God: Baha’u’llah. In 1909, after being hidden away for more than half a century, the Bab’s remains were finally interred on Mount Carmel, Israel.
750: A Collaborative Photography Installation in Honor of the Bab
750 is an incredible collaborative photographic initiative created in honor of the Bab. It features 750 photographs of candles (some of which are illumined) as a reference to the 750 rifles that were fired to execute the Bab, and the inextinguishable nature of His revelation and the impact of His teachings.
My good friend and awesome photographer, Nancy Wong was one of the collaborators involved in this project, and I was excited to hear all about how it came about. Below you’ll find what she shared with me, along with some images of the installation.
Bahai Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about what 750 is?
750 is a collaborative photo project that serves as a visual meditation on the martyrdom of the Bab, prophet-herald of the Baha’i Faith. As many of your readers probably know, in 1850 the Bab was executed by a regiment of 750 soldiers, each with a rifle that shot a bullet at the blessed being.
750 is a photographic art installation made of 750 portraits of individually lit candles, most held by a different person. The installation is approximately 15 feet (4.5 meters) wide and 8 feet (2.5 meters) tall.
Essentially, 750 is in response to what happened to the Bab, and celebrates His legacy and teachings. Since the project exhibited in 2019, it commemorated the bicentenary of His birthday also!
How the project got started was that in February of 2019 I received an invitation from Saba Ayman-Nolley to submit an art piece for the Art in Response to Violence Conference, a conference she organized every year in October at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. The conference has an art exhibit that coincides with it, and Saba encouraged me to consider submitting an art piece.
Visual artist Robert (Bob) Reddy agreed to team up with me on this project upon my invitation, serving as my principal collaborator. Then in early April, I reached out to professional and semi-pro photographers, including some individuals who were hobbyists, or just starting out. I knew Bob and I couldn’t do all 750 portraits by ourselves; I knew it would be more interesting to get other image-makers to contribute their vision too. Initially, many of those photographers I reached out to couldn’t accept my invitation due to other commitments in their lives, which I totally understood. Luckily, a couple of people said “yes”, and that was enough encouragement for me to keep going. Slowly, new folks I would reach out to said “yes” to the project. Some people contacted me via email and social media, telling me they had heard about the project and wanted in on the project! In total, 18 of us made up the photo team. We are from 5 countries (Australia, Hungary, Kuwait, Mauritius, USA). How cool is that?! Makes me think of the 18 Letters of the Living, the first 18 disciples of the Babi Faith.
Of the 750 unique portraits, we were able to photograph at least 550 unique individuals from all over the world!
Baha’i Blog: Why was it important for you to make this happen, and what was the inspiration behind it?
It was important for me to make this project happen because I wanted to do something to celebrate the Bab’s 200th birthday by connecting folks with the Bab’s message, and I wanted to do it via photography.
The inspiration? Well, when I got the invitation from Saba to submit an art piece for the exhibit, I wanted to take some time to think about what I could do. I decided to take advantage of the fact that the month of the Baha’i Fast was just around the corner, so I prayed and meditated on this throughout the Fast. I really loved it because I let my soul really explore and be free. I told myself I didn’t commit to anything so there was no pressure to produce or do anything but to daydream. It was great!
During the Fast, I thought a lot about the life of the Bab, and how much He suffered. I found myself recounting the story of His martyrdom, and the period when He was incarcerated in the Iranian city of Maku, when He was not given a lamp during the long nights in prison. I kept these accounts of the violence He experienced in mind during those 19 days of the Fast. I thought how powerful God was that despite what happened to the Bab, having been executed, His teachings continued to spread, and His faith community grew, and that ultimately, His light was never put out. Hence, the idea of the 750 lit candles suggesting that the 750 bullets actually served to ignite the souls of humankind.
I really believe the idea for the 750 project was inspired from God because everything fell into place. Bob and I were committed to a collaborative process that involved consultation, planning, action, and reflection. We knew that prayers, detachment, humility, kindness, honesty, friendship, excellence, artistry, and unity were all vital to the success of the project.
Baha’i Blog: What do you hope people will walk away with after experiencing it?
I hope folks remember the Bab’s message of peace, justice, love, spiritual renewal, and the oneness of humanity. I hope viewers remember that even when incredibly horrific things happen, when we humans cause real harm to others and bring destruction to the planet, God has a way to help us learn and grow from those situations. We mature as a human race; our sense of compassion and empathy deepens. Pain awakens us, and when we accept our interconnectedness, the responsibility of the consequences of those actions become a shared opportunity; together we have a chance to all advance and truly illumine the world.
Baha’i Blog: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
As an artist, and one who works to earn a livelihood with my craft, engaging in a project that is commissioned by the Universe is pretty awesome. Most artists call these types of projects, personal projects, self-directed projects, or passion projects. They are what fuel us, and keep us alive. Self-directed projects also challenge us because they are almost always initially self-funded, which was the case for this project. As Bob and I got closer to the actual fabrication of the photo art pieces, we consulted on the estimated material costs, and created a working budget. We shared what we each felt we could contribute from our own funds, and then I started seeking out small grants to fill in the gaps. Luckily, we were able to secure some grant money from the Art in Response to Violence Conference, the Baha’i House of Worship, and the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Chicago. From these grants, not only were we able to create the 750 art installation, we were able to exhibit it at a conference, at two universities, at four bicentenary of the birth of the Bab events, and at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. I’m so grateful to these entities for supporting our photo project!
Baha’i Blog: Thank you so much, Nancy, for sharing this with us! Below you’ll find some photos of 750 as a completed installation, some photos detailing how it was put together, and a handful of the 750 the photographs included in the work.
Naysan is passionate about using the arts and media to explore the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. Back in 2011, Naysan started up the Baha’i Blog project, channeling his experiences in both media and technology companies to help create a hub for Baha’i-inspired content online.